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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ernesto is Dead and It Matters to Me

Yesterday, I was driving home from school and listening to Marketplace when a piece from their series, "My Life is True," aired. It was from a man named Leo Webb and this is what he said:

... I just got back from Iraq...

... I got 17 confirmed kills. I didn't see their faces. I only saw them through a scope and blew their brains out. I didn't meet them, or ask how many kids they had. When you kill somebody, you kill their family too. It all goes downhill.


That part about when you kill somebody, you kill their family, too, yeah, I kept thinking about that.

One year ago today, a man I never met was gunned down outside a liquor store in East Hollywood. It was 8:34 PM and Ernesto was alone when he walked out to the parking lot where he was confronted by one or more assailants. And then he was dead.

When we first moved to Los Angeles, we lived just blocks from where Ernesto died, but I didn't know him. He was born, grew up, became a father to his son Joshua, and died without my knowledge.

I have no memory of what I was doing one year ago today. It was a Monday night and I imagine I had just finished reading my daughter a bed-time story and, at the moment Ernesto died, I was probably watching her sleep and loving her quietly.

I suspect that if news of his death had reached me before today, I wouldn't have cared much. Even if I'd heard about it yesterday after listening to Leo Webb, I wouldn't have understood. Just another young man pulled under by a rogue wave in Ocean Los Angeles.

But I would have been wrong.

Ernesto had a sister. She was six years younger than he and he wanted her to be everything he wasn't. She was going to graduate high school. She was going to stay on the straight path. She was his baby sister and he loved her very much.

He took good care of her. He watched out for her at home and on the streets. He gave her love and support and advice and he regularly reminded her, both in words and in looks, that she was someone special to him. She loved him, too. Very much.

And then he was killed.

When she came to us a month ago, a small girl, rising barely over five feet tall who wore her hair short and had bleached it down to an orange-gold which brought out her startlingly hazel eyes, she was a bit of a cipher. We don't get good students very often and when we do, it's because something bad has happened. But this girl laughed easily and well. She seemed happy and at ease with where she was and what she was doing. She made friends quickly and was quick to help others. She seemed fine.

But she's not fine. She's Ernesto's family and it was murdered, too.

She's barely holding it together and I only found it out because I happened to notice today, on the anniversary of her brother's murder, that things were different. A year ago she lost her anchor and her compass and she's with us because, on her own, she breezed onto the rocks, failing classes and missing school.

She came to us because she wants to right herself, but it's harder than she imagined. At seventeen, being your own rock and compass is a heavy and complicated load, but she's trying hard.

She even came to school today and I have rarely been prouder of such a simple accomplishment.

On my way home I said a small prayer for Ernesto and then another one for his sister. And then I said a prayer of thanks to Leo Webb, even though he's not dead, for speaking so clearly about so many things that are wrong with death.

I thought about saying a prayer for all the other families who's names are on the LA Homicide Report, but it felt like too much to do on my own.

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